H&M has thrown down the gauntlet to its value competitors with its new statement store on London’s Regent Street.
Despite a flurry of press publicising the launch of H&M’s new flagship on London’s Regent Street last week, the Swedish young fashion retailer’s new store seemed to have slipped well under the radar of rival chains and store design gurus. Anyone who has not yet visited the shop in the former Dickens & Jones building – just yards from the front step of H&M’s Oxford Circus site – ought to do so quick smart, as it demonstrates the fast-fashion retailer’s commitment to expansion in the UK.
H&M UK and Ireland country manager Magnus Olsson confirms that the retailer is serious about taking its brand profile to the next level. “We believe this opening will increase brand awareness, add character to one of Europe’s top shopping destinations and provide the ultimate shopping experience for our valued customers,” he says.
The three-floor store covers 32,000sq ft, making it one of the retailer’s largest stores in the UK. The rear of the shop features a “light wall”, a huge design statement criss-crossed with escalators up to the first floor and down to the basement. However, H&M has retained the original Dickens & Jones columns and coving in keeping with the historic building.
The ground floor houses fast-fashion womenswear, which is merchandised with accessories on hanging rails interspersed with shelves to showcase the retailer’s growing footwear offer, while tables at different heights display oversized bags and sunglasses with folded jumpers and tops. There are also a number of free-standing ‘cage’ fixtures that are used to pick out key fashion trends and colour stories. Dedicated sections for accessories, with hanging stands for jewellery and bags, are also found on the ground floor.
Upstairs is a second womenswear area, largely dedicated to casualwear. The first floor is anchored by a vast denim department which splits the women’s offer from the men’s range. The menswear department has a distinctive US brand-style fit and merchandising. It features photo graphics, Persian rugs, black sofas and traditional tailor’s dummies in place of mannequins. The menswear department also has a large glass table displaying a selection of ties, and the changing rooms carry framed messages telling customers to “Be brave” and “Trust their taste”.
The basement is dedicated to niche product categories such as maternitywear, lingerie and H&M’s plus-size sub-brand, BB. An internal false room with black walls is brought to life with a rainbow of hanging bras. Howard Saunders, creative director at store design specialist Echochamber, says: “The lingerie area looks great and I sense there is a battle for the best presentation of lingerie among the value sector players. H&M is aware that the area needs to be presented well to give a sense of authority to the offer.”
However, the real statement in the basement is the kidswear department, which knocks most rival kidswear operators out of the water. This is a proper mini-me environment, with mannequins dressed to showcase nu-rave trends and skinny jeans for eight-year-old girls, alongside a wall of brightly-coloured hoodies to entice boys.
What the store proves is that it is no longer enough to trade on price alone – this is a serious brand statement from H&M that makes the white box shopfits of its rivals look incredibly dated. Saunders says the new H&M is symptomatic of a trend to “push for posh” in the value sector. He adds: “H&M has moved well away from the white box and given the whole store a much more aggressive, upmarket dynamic.”
Pali International analyst Nick Bubb agrees that value fashion retailers are upping their game. He says: “Uniqlo did a good job in Oxford Street when it opened last year. What it shows is that the world is not standing still in terms of stores. River Island is always moving its concept on too.”
There is clearly investment in this H&M shopfit, a frightening prospect for those rivals struggling to trade through an economic downturn who will be loath to splash out on a new statement shopfit this year.
Bubb says new storefits such as this simply serve to highlight the disappointing refurbishments at the likes of Marks & Spencer. He says: “M&S just didn’t push its environment that far in terms of the competition. However, you have to remember that one store does not make a difference to the bottom line, but it does show what is possible and where product is on a level playing field. Customers will migrate to the stores that are interesting and provide a great shopping experience.”
Although H&M continues to outperform the market in the UK and across Europe – its January like-for-like sales were ahead by 3% – its ‘jumble sale’ stores have sometimes alienated shoppers. They may like the product, but have neither the time nor the inclination to hunt through endless tables of tangled jumpers. Whether this store, with its new merchandise techniques, can stand up to the frenetic ‘snatch and grab’ fast-fashion shopping habits will be a key factor in its success.
Saunders says: “There are quite a lot of areas of deliberate breathing space built into the store, with a graphic on a frame leaning against a wall or cages of merchandise on the ground floor, which is very Abercrombie & Fitch. It will be interesting to see how long that sort of merchandising will last.”
H&M plans other significant openings around the country this year, including new shops in Newcastle upon Tyne, Belfast and Bristol. A shop with a dedicated younger store concept is also in development for Camden in north London.
Dedicated shopfits that appeal to the local shopper demographic are almost unheard of for multiples, and again this demands investment. River Island has led the way in terms of store design in young fashion, revamping its shops countrywide every two years. But creating a concept to appeal to different ages and demographics takes store design to a new level. If H&M can pull that off, expect people to really sit up and notice.